A Follow-Up on Leighton’s Rebuttal (1/2)

Leighton Flowers responded (source) to an article I wrote (source) in which I critiqued his commentary on Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 9:6b. I will follow-up on Leighton’s video in two ways: first, in written form with two articles, second, in video form on YouTube (I’ll share the video when it’s released).

Some of Leighton’s comments dealt with systematic theology and other texts I did not address in my original article. I will not be responding to those comments, unless I deem it helpful in discussing the particular meaning of Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 9:6a. So this article (and the next), to be clear, only deals with comments Leighton made specifically about Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 9:6a. I may comment further in the coming video.

The Cordial Exchange

I pointed-out that in verse 4, God chooses both the plan and the persons who will be included in this plan. This, I proposed, would be in stark contrast to Leighton’s position, where before creation God chose the plan but not the particular persons who would be included in this plan. My grammatical basis for this was mainly pointing to the direct object: “us” (the saints mentioned in v.1).

Leighton did not explicitly rebut my point that the object of God’s choosing is “us.” However, I believe there is a grammatical rebuttal strongly implied in what he said, and so I will respond to what I perceive his argument is. He refers to his position as “the corporate view of election.” The argument (if the reader has a better way of presenting it, please inform me in the comment section below) says that God chose a people (corporate) and when someone believes upon Jesus, he becomes part of that elect people and therefore elect himself. Christ is the elect one, redemption is the elect plan, faith is the elect means by which one is included in the elect church, and once you through faith are united to Christ, you become elect yourself.

Initial Thoughts

We first must decide whether “in Him” functions in an adjectival or adverbial sense. The immediate word order may suggest it is in reference to “us.” However, notice how Paul utilizes the phrase (or its equivalent) in the rest of this passage: adverbially. For example: “In Him we have redemption” (v.7), “He purposed in Him” (v.9), “In Him also we have obtained” (v.11). While several instances are obscure, the only clear cases point to an adverbial usage. (Below the reader will find an explanation for interpreting all such instances of “in Him” together.)

Second, assuming that “in Him” qualifies “chose,” we must decide in what sense it does. “In” is translated from the Greek preposition en which, in most cases, denotes a spacial or spherical relationship (Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 60). Christ is a sphere in which God’s choosing took place – Christ is the context. (I mean this in a broad sense that could potentially include all uses of en. My use of “sphere” at the end of this article is more specific.)

Note that “in Him” is dative and the direct object is “us.” The object of the preposition (“Him” i.e. Christ) is not acted upon by the verb. God’s electing does not affect the person or work of Christ. Christ is the space in which God’s act of choosing took place, but Christ Himself is not changed or manipulated by the act of choosing. Christ qualifies the choosing, not vice versa.

What does Christ have to do with God’s election of the saints? Or rather, what did Christ have to do with it?

What Leighton Seems to Suggest

Watching Leighton’s rebuttal, I perceive he thinks “in Him” functions adjectivally. So I will do my best to reconstruct the Corporate Election model with this in mind. Leighton’s interpretation would seem to render the phrase as, “who are believing upon Christ.” A paraphrase: “Just as He chose us who are believing upon Christ before the world began.”

This reading identifies who Paul is speaking of but does nothing to change the initial meaning of “He chose us… before the foundation of the world.” God’s election still takes place before creation, still of particular persons, and still independent of faith. If anything is implied in this interpretation, it would be that the only people we may consider elect in the world today are those who are presently believing upon Christ.

One could argue that the persons in view are post-conversion (i.e. Are believing upon Christ) and therefore God’s election is contingent upon faith. God did not choose non-believers, but believers. I perceive two main problems with this.

First, this would require that the particular persons in view are not elected until they place faith in Christ. This does not seem possible because verse 4 explicitly says that God’s electing activity was completed before the world began. While one might argue that God’s election of these saints began, in some manner, before creation, Leighton’s position requires election to be in some way incomplete until a man places faith in Christ. This, again, is not a possibility due to the aorist tense of “chose” (aorist communicates that the action is complete) and the temporal qualification “before the foundation of the world.”

Second, if one is inclined to avoid the previous point, then this would require that the saints did not come into existence until their conversion – that prior to faith in Christ, they were non-existent. The New Testament undoubtedly teaches Christians are new creations after conversion (ex. 2 Co 5:17), but this kind of creative act is one of re-creation. It is a change in the initial person, in which his qualities are tampered with. That type of regenerative work is distinct from saying that the Christian altogether did not exist before conversion – saying that the body/soul/spirit of the pre-conversion man literally ceased to exist and, in his place, a new body/soul/spirit was materialized. I am not suggesting that Leighton believes this, but rather that his interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 grammatically requires it. In short: this particular adjectival reading of “in Him” commits the exegete to a systematic of person-hood and ontology that is, frankly, nonsense.

The only way to read this verse with election contingent upon faith is to let the prepositional phrase function adverbially, describing the way in which God chose the saints. I want to engage the best possible argument for Corporate Election, so I will evaluate the adverbial construction.

Excursus: Interpreting Equivalent Uses of “in Him” in vv.3-14

The structure of verses 3-14 places verses 4-14 under verse 3. Verse 3 is the main point Paul makes, and the following 11 verses explain in detail the contents of verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (v.3). What are these spiritual blessings in the heavenly places? What does it mean to be blessed in Christ with these things? Verses 4-14 explain.

This means, as a general rule, every contextually equivalent use of “in Him” found in verses 4-14 must be consistent with Paul’s use of “in Christ” in verse 3. So if we take into consideration the common possible meanings of all contextually equivalent uses of “in Him” in verses 4-14, we then have a semantic range for any of these such uses in the passage. I’m arguing that this provides us with strong evidence that “in Him” is functioning adverbially.

Corporate Election

Corporate Election is a possible conclusion from Ephesians 1:4 if “in Him” functions as a Dative of Means (perhaps a Dative of Cause). This instrumental dative would render the phrase to mean “by” or “by means of.” Christ, then, would be the means by which a saint is chosen. Christ is the elect One before the foundation of the world, through Whom certain persons – over time – become elect. The election is actualized when faith is placed in Christ, because at that point the man is included into Christ and becomes a member of the elect body.

I acknowledge this makes philosophical sense. I am not accusing the Corporate Election model of inconsistency at this level. The question, however, is one of exegetical integrity – the theory might be coherent but does it actually follow from the text?

It most probably does not follow, upon the basis that “in Him” should not be considered a Dative of Means. First, the preposition en is more commonly (but not exclusively) associated with a Dative of Sphere or Reference rather than Means. Second, Paul’s use of en is differentiated from His reference to “means” in verses 4-6.

  • Verse 4: He chose us in Him
  • Verse 5: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ
  • Verse 6: Which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved

In verse 5, Christ is the means (“through”)  by which one is adopted as a son (Bratcher and Nida, Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 14). Thus, Christ as a Means is distinguished by Paul from whatever Christ is in verse 4 and 6 (whether dia modifies “predestined” or “adoption” does not affect my point). Saints are adopted dia (through) Christ (v.5) and chosen en (in) Christ (v.4).

Unconditional Election

The two main options seem to be the Dative of Sphere or Dative of Reference. It can be tricky to differentiate between the two – immediate and broad context must be utilized (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond Basics, 145).

If “in Him” only functions in the broader spherical sense, we can paraphrase Ephesians 1:4, “just as God chose, in the context of Christ, the saints before He created the world.” The realm in which God chose is Christ. This sphere is abstract.

If “in Him” functions more specifically in a referential sense, we can paraphrase Ephesians 1:4, “just as God chose, in reference to Christ, the saints before He created the world.” God’s electing was done with Christ in mind. God did not make an arbitrary choice.

Both ways of understanding “in Him” make theological sense. Grammatically, a syntactical decision will have to be made in light of Paul’s immediate word-choices and broader intention in Ephesians.

I am inclined towards the more general Dative of Sphere, in light of the multiple usage of “in Him” in the passage. In equivalent usage later on (ex. v.7), Paul seems to utilize “in Him” in a non-referential way, though in the same manner as verse 4. This compels me to say that “in Him” in verse 4 is not a Dative of Reference.

Probably a Dative of Sphere, “in Him” communicates that God’s pre-creation choice of Christians was made in the context of Jesus Christ. (note: if “in Him” is a Dative of Reference, it still communicates the doctrine of Unconditional Election; see Salmond, “The Epistle to the Ephesians” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 3, 248.) God took into consideration the Messiah when He selected the saints. This begins the Christo-centric theme of verses 4-14. In light of these exegetical comments, I would like to ask some simple questions about Ephesians 1:4.

Q. Who is acting? A. God.
Q. What is God doing? A. Choosing.
Q. When did God choose, and is the choosing finished? A. Before creation, and yes.
Q. What did God choose? A. He chose the saints – so, “whom” is more correct.
Q. Was God’s choice arbitrary? A. No.
Q. Then for what reason did He choose? A. There are two types of reasons: a contextual and a teleological.
Q. What was the contextual reason? A. The person and work of Christ.
Q. What was the teleological reason? A. To make those selected persons into Christ’s image.

Conclusion

In light of the person and work of Christ, God selected – before He created anything – certain sinners out for the purpose of redeeming them from their wickedness.

That is my exegetical conclusion from Ephesians 1:4. This Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election, I submit, is the meaning of Ephesians 1:4. For a detailed, to-the-point explanation of this doctrine, see this article.

It is apparent, from his response to my article, that Leighton’s interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 cannot withstand serious investigation. Moreover, I submit that the Traditionalist (Provisionalist) interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 is grammatically improbable and philosophically indefensible. It makes a mess of Paul’s word choices and commits the reader to theological nonsense.

Within the next week, I will publish a response to Leighton’s rebuttal on Romans 9:6b. I hope this follow-up has been helpful and I pray to God that, despite the depravity that yet resides in my flesh, my exegesis has been honest and correct.

Grace and Peace

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A Working Confession of Unconditional Election

Below I have provided my working confession of the soteriological doctrine Unconditional Election. This is a working confession because it still needs serious critical review. Therefore, your input would prove most valuable to me in crafting my understanding of what Scripture teaches. Please feel free to comment below or message me on social media with affirmations and critiques.

A Confession of Unconditional Election

1. Before the world was made, God chose specific sinners to love in a special way:

1.1. according to His sovereign and free will, the right He has as Creator and King of the universe, with no consideration to the conditions of those specific sinners except their great need and therefore in sole respect to the greatness of His mercy in the covenant of redemption;
1.2. to the end that these specific sinners would be conformed into the likeness of His Son, washed of all sinful stain and purged of every vice, saved to sin no more in holiness and blamelessness, brought into an eternal fellowship of joyfully glorifying God;
1.3. by the means of saving them from the consequences of their rebellion through the justification secured in the substitutionary death of His Son upon the cross and the resurrection sealed by the effectual working of His Spirit in time, such that the penalty and power of sin would be laid waste, such that the promise of future glory with Him made sure and evident in the genuine faith wrought in their spiritual resurrection under the covenant of grace;
1.4. with in mind Christ’s merit to be imputed to these specific sinners, won by His active and passive obedience on the earth and secured in His substitutionary death on the cross;
1.5. with implication that those sinners whom He did not choose would continue in their hostility and rebellion, eventually to fall into eternity with no grounds for justification and no delight in His glory, when He then in righteousness should pronounce upon them and subject them to an everlasting damnation for their sin;
1.6. for the purpose of delighting in Himself through the full demonstration of His attributes;

and to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.


2. Such ends as God chose these specific sinners unto shall in no way be hindered:

2.1. for every means necessary therein He ordained and ensures in the efficacy of His will, that sovereign and omnipotent purpose which alone governs the universe in time to consummate all things for the ultimate benefit of those specific sinners, to the effect that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, is able to separate these specific sinners from His love;
2.2. to the effect that the sum numeric value of God’s elect persons is never subtracted from or increased, nor are the particular individuals comprising the whole ever so much as shaken from their place among the elect;
2.3. meaning that all creatures and time itself are forbidden witness to a beginning or end to God’s love for these elect persons, His will to redeem them whelming pre creatio ex nihilo and flowing immutably through eternity;
2.4. to such implication that the sufferings of our brethren in Africa and Asia at the hands of ISIS have no effect on their security in Christ, therein such incredible faith they exhibit in the face of bullets, fires, swords, and torture manifests God’s eternal decision to love them, whereas we weep with them in longing for the redemption of our bodies;

and to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.


3. God follows that eternal selection of specific sinners with the tangible, specific fulfillment of that purpose in the redemption of each person selected.

3.1. Regeneration occurs when God’s eternal purpose for the redemption of a specific sinner intersects with that person in time – a Divine, monergistic work in which God gives that individual genuine and lasting affections for Christ via the creation of a new heart, therein this sinner’s resurrection has now begun spiritually.
3.2. Repentance and Faith are the simple fruits of regeneration – faith alone is the instrument of justification, repentance alone is the vindication of faith.
3.3. Glorification will be the monergistic completion of every saint’s resurrection (having begun spiritually in regeneration) to a state of sinless perfection in the likeness of Christ, the end unto which they were foreknown – therein the ontological divide between Creator and creature is not bridged.

and to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.


4. Such deplorable implications deduced from this doctrine include:

4.1. the notion that He has no genuine love for those sinners whom He did not choose to save, whereby in no way He takes displeasure in their rejection of or death apart from Him;
4.2. the notion that He requires no labor from mankind, whereby His ordination did not include human labor as a means unto such ends He desires;
4.3. the notion that His church has no reason to evangelize, whereby His sovereign calling advances apart from the preaching of the gospel;
4.4. the notion that such a doctrine has no practical implications for His church, whereby only in academia and philosophic contexts may it be helpfully considered;
4.5. the notion that His decision to love those sinners was arbitrary, whereby no reason whatsoever compelled Him to act as He did;

and these deplorable implications are to be firmly rejected and refuted, having no ground in Sacred Scripture, whereas that congregation which swiftly refuses them is blessed.


Notes

  • I need to provide Scripture references for each section.

Thoughts on Reprobation

Affirmation and Definition

Election necessitates Reprobation. However, Reprobation is not the antithesis of Election. Wayne Grudem provides a rich definition: “Reprobation is the sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice.”[1] Scriptures pointing to Reprobation include the following: Matthew 11:25-26; Romans 9:17-20, 22-23; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4; Revelation 17:8.

Differentiation and Attitude

Reprobation is differentiated from Election in that God is passive toward the Reprobate and active toward the Elect. God’s decree of Election is His eternal choice to chase down and definitively redeem certain individuals from their sinful condition. God’s decree of Reprobation is His eternal choice to pass over and definitively “leave be” certain individuals in their sinful condition. Because of man’s will which is bonded in sin, all God must do to reprobate a man is simply leave him alone. All God must do is not actively pursue him unto saving faith.

Why do we make such a distinction? Isn’t the distinction between passivity and activity mute, considering that God actively made each decision in eternity past? First, the differentiation is in God’s accomplishment of His eternal purpose (ex. Ro 9:6-24), not simply in the decision. Second, it is not a mute distinction because it is a decision that God Himself makes in His Word. Numerous times we read of God’s electing, effectual, regenerating grace. Yet, never in the Bible do we see God effectually chasing the Reprobate into Hell.

The final thing to consider is the attitude in which Reprobation is presented. Scripture tells us that there is a true sense in which 1) God take displeasure in the death of wicked men (Ezek 33:11), 2) men and angels are responsible for their actions (Jn 3:18-19; 5:40). Paul expressed his own sorrow for these: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren…” (Ro 9:1-4).

Emboldened Grace and the Value of God’s Glory

The reader may want to understand why God would choose to pass over certain sinners and not save them. It is not necessary to know why, for “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2, 4). Yet I submit that we are given two reasons why. First, to make known to His elect the riches of His glorious grace (Ro 9:23). God’s gospel grace is underscored, emboldened, highlighted, and further glorified, when God demonstrates through vessels of wrath that He truly does not have to save any of us (v.22).

Second, to glorify Himself. God’s glory is the most valuable thing imaginable. God being glorified is a better end than any other possible outcome. It is the superlative to even human well-being. If God was willing to destroy His Son in wrath (Isa 53:10a; Ro 3:23-26) for the greater purpose of glorifying Himself, why is it so unbelievable that He would not also be willing to pass over certain individuals for the greater purpose of glorifying Himself?


[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 684

Download New eBook “Vindicating Calvinism”

My Christmas gift to the Southern Baptist Convention (my denomination) is an eBook titled Vindicating Calvinism: A Brief Defense for Southern Baptist Dialogue. You can view, print and download the PDF at this link: vindicating-calvinism

The book is created from six articles I have published on Calvinistic theology. If you regularly read my blog, you may have already heard what I have to say. In addition to editing each article, I have provided a table of contents and Scripture index to serve you in utilizing the content. I hope this work proves helpful to you.

Merry Christmas!

Is Your Calvinism a Graven Image?

The New Calvinist movement has, in some respects, developed a prideful reputation. Be it well-intended over-audacity for truth, sinful hostility towards others, or simply pride – there’s not much evidence we can draw upon to prove such attitudes are not among our ranks. It was for most a worldview-shattering conversion into the Doctrines of Grace. The courage to trudge-through tradition and cultural hostility often becomes aggressiveness once we’ve completed the jump.

Yet ‘hostility’ doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ll be honest: it’s easy for my Calvinism to become an idol. I think many of my Reformed brethren can relate. After considerable reflection, I’d like to share four ways that Calvinistic soteriology may become a graven image. These are four questions that hopefully will prove helpful in avoiding a worship of Calvinism.

I. Do you assume that Calvinistic confessions could not be improved upon?

How do you read the Westminster Confession of Faith, or the 1689 London Baptist Confession? I know you probably would say that it does not hold the same authority that Scripture does, but do your actions betray you? If I am unwilling to critique any man-written statement in light of Scripture, I am equating that statement with Scripture. Holding TULIP accountable to the Word of God does not mean that TULIP has to be changed, it means that I am willing to change it if I see it contradicting Scripture.

The entry-level example for Calvinists is probably the doctrine of “Limited Atonement.” Is it true? Sure. Is it well-worded? Not really. If you have participated in Reformed dialogue for any considerable amount of time, you understand that Definite Atonement or Particular Atonement more faithfully communicates the doctrine. The term should be changed in order to more accurately communicate what Scripture teaches. An assumption that Calvinistic confessions are beyond such criticism is evidence that I probably idolize Calvinism. It is functionally asserting that my human systemization of doctrine is infallible and on-par with God’s own Word.

II. Do you unconditionally support the opinions of Calvinistic theologians?

This is similar to the previous point. Specifically, I have in mind particular faith-heroes that we may look-up to – whether living or dead. Do I accept everything John Piper says on blind faith? When James White writes something, do I believe it simply because it comes from him? Even Paul’s commission pointed to Christ as the true authority: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In matters of doctrine, we must hold our theologian-leaders accountable to Scripture. We trust them, we follow them, we are thankful for them – yet they are not prophets of divine revelation.

In matters of conduct, we likewise hold our theologian-leaders accountable to Scripture. We must be willing, brethren, to say, “Yes, John Calvin was a sinner. He made some mistakes at Geneva.” Likewise: “Yes, Martin Luther was not perfect. His anti-Semitic attitude was sinful.” Through the centuries and into the modern day, we should never blindly defend ethical decisions of Calvinists. Everyone is subject to God’s holy standard.

III. Do you reject an anti-Calvinistic claim without Scriptural evidence?

In short exchanges when I don’t immediately have a passage in mind, yes: I’m willing to fall upon my confessions to say, “I don’t agree with that.” Confessions and traditions are good. Everyone has them. They are like guardrails, keeping us on the pathway of faithfulness. However, we understand that these confessions and traditions are only authoritative to the extent that they align with Scripture. I idolize my confessions when I’m unwilling to say, “Does Scripture really teach that?”

In dialogue with non-Calvinists, this idolatry can manifest itself in a different way. When my opponent claims something that is contrary to Calvinism, what is my basis for denying his claim? Is it that Calvin said something to the contrary? Perhaps Alistair Begg preached a sermon against it last week? These reasons do not suffice, because only one will do: “That claim is not supported by Scripture.” Our reason for rejecting anti-Calvinistic claims cannot be simply because they contradict our systemization of truth. Our reason must be that they contradict Scripture. Thus, if I reject an anti-Calvinistic claim without any idea what the Bible says on the subject – whose word am I really worshiping? Sometimes the best thing to say is, “Let me do some study and get back with you.”

IV. Do you consider anti-Calvinism to be evidence of an unregenerate heart?

One mark of Hyper-Calvinism is that everyone who is not Reformed in their soteriology must not be saved. Most Calvinists I know understand that this is silly. Yet honestly, I often idolize my Calvinism in such a way that functionally communicates that my non-Calvinist siblings are really just step-brothers and sisters. They’re in the family, but just by the skin of their teeth. I may not say this but how I treat them communicates it.

Wait, though – what do I believe about the atonement? I believe that Christ secured salvation for God’s elect. I affirm that He definitively paid for the sins of His people. So…if this anti-Calvinistic Christian I’m debating with is saved by Christ, then how can I consider his sins to be less atoned for than my own? Who am I to say that obedient theology grants me more intercessory work from Christ? Do I really believe that faithfulness in exegesis is a warrant for a greater portion of Christ’s Spirit? Perhaps it would be wise if I considered repentance to and faith in Christ the standard of considering one to be a brother rather than how sanctified his theology is.

Vindicating Calvinism: A Faith Twisted in Haste

This article is written to clarify common misconceptions about Calvinism. It is the third installment of a series in which I mean to defend the Calvinistic worldview against misunderstandings and harmful caricatures. If you have a concern that I do not address here, please comment below and inform me. At the end of these clarifications, I will provide a list of commitments that a Calvinist is bound to.

Calvinism is often misunderstood (as is, for example, Classical Arminianism). The plethora of subtleties and nuances in each doctrine provide ample opportunity for misconception. If you study Calvinism in order to critique rather than understand it, I can almost guarantee that you will despise it. I would be honored if allowed to guide you around some of the pot-holes that many people hit on their journey to comprehending the Calvinistic worldview.

May God bring profit from my inadequate efforts.

A Faith Twisted in Haste

I. Confusions

Do Calvinists follow John Calvin?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I exhort you, be imitators of me” (1 Co 4:16). Though he was an apostle, surely it is not a sin to follow someone in the context of discipleship. So the question, “Do Calvinists follow John Calvin,” is loaded if intended to convey that we worship the man or think him to be inerrant. Calvinism derives its name from Calvin solely because he was perhaps the most influential author in this stream of theology. Calvin was not alive when the “five points” were articulated. Furthermore, the tenants of Calvinistic thought can be traced back to Augustine and to the first centuries. Calvin was a sinner in need of grace and did not have perfect theology.

Does Calvinism deny free will?
This question over-simplifies the issue. Most who ask this are confessors of Libertarian Free-Will, which I propose is a philosophical construct and not based on faithful exegesis of Scripture. A better question, perhaps, would be: “According to the Calvinist, in what sense is a man’s will free?” There are two categories to consider here. First, we may consider the antinomy of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Second, we may consider the effect that sin has upon mankind.

The Calvinistic worldview typically confesses that God ordains all things that occur. He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). However, humans still have a responsibility for the actions they commit. Moreover, humans freely commit actions out of their own agency. Though you might say, “That makes no sense,” the Calvinist will likely respond, “It doesn’t matter: Scripture teaches it.” Calvinism affirms such texts as Joshua 10:29-30, “Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah, and fought against Libnah. The Lord gave it also with its king into the hands of Israel, and he struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword.” Who defeated Libnah? Scripture explicitly says that the Lord gave it into the hands of Israel. However, who struck Libnah with the edge of the sword? Joshua/Israel. God is credited with the victory, yet human agency is clearly not compromised. How is this possible? Though some may work it out purely through philosophy, Calvinism is satisfied to rest in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

As an illustration, you might consider Shakespeare and Hamlet. As the author, Shakespeare writes everything that Hamlet does. In fact, Hamlet does nothing that Shakespeare does not ultimately will him to do. However, inside the story-dimension, Hamlet has agency. The mind-blowing thing about Christianity is that God crosses the metaphysical line between Himself and creation, to actually “walk with Hamlet.” This, I believe, best articulates the Calvinist position on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

The second category would be the effect that sin has upon a man’s will. The man is under sin (Rom 3:9), meaning that sin has dominion over him. This picture, however, is not of a trapped, innocent soul. The bondage is one of the will. Man’s hostility towards God is so great that he will not obey God (Rom 8:6-8). Without Divine assistance, he will not even come to God (Jn 6:44). The Light of God’s holiness exposes his deeds: rather than humble himself, man will slunk away from the light in pride (Jn 3:19-21). Man can’t come to God on his own because he won’t. So, mankind is free in the sense that he is always able to choose what he wants to do. However, he is in bondage to his own depraved desires. He can’t choose God on his own because he never wants to choose God.

In summary: the Calvinist position is that man’s will is free until it conflicts with God’s free will. In that instance, God’s will is sovereign over man’s. Also, man’s will is free to choose whatever it wants to choose. However, it is a faithful saying that no one will choose God without regenerating grace (Jn 1:13).

But isn’t Total Inability the same thing as Judicial Hardening?
This question is one commonly promoted by Leighton Flowers. It is a misconception of Calvinism on a most fundamental level. The doctrine of Total Inability says that man’s will is so ruined by sin that he will never choose God freely without Divine, regenerating grace. The doctrine of Judicial Hardening says that God at times hardens a person’s heart in order to accomplish a specific purpose in history. The two ideas are completely distinct from one another.

For example, consider the hardening of Pharaoh. He was born in Original Sin just as we were: naturally unable to freely choose God without regenerating grace. When Moses came to ask for the Jews to leave, the text is clear that God had to harden Pharaoh’s heart to keep him from letting the Israelites leave. If God had not hardened his heart, there wouldn’t have been ten plagues – maybe two or three, tops. But God made Pharaoh stubborn, in order to glorify Himself against the false gods of Egypt. Judicial Hardening did not keep Pharaoh from choosing God, it kept Pharaoh from letting God’s people go.

Don’t Calvinists believe that only elect babies go to Heaven?
Realize first that every Christian has to answer the question of infant salvation. If God doesn’t elect people to salvation, then their choice is the determining factor. So…what about babies who never get a chance to choose God? What about the fetus who never develops ears to hear the gospel or a mind to understand it? Since he doesn’t have faith in Christ, does that mean he will not go to Heaven? “Of course not – God has grace on them,” you say – but my question is, how do you know? What text of Scripture do you have to prove this?

Truthfully, there is no explicit Scriptural basis for infant salvation or an “age of accountability.” It is irresponsible for an opponents of Calvinism to throw this question upon a Calvinist, unless he himself has also considered the ramifications of infant death to his own theological system. Calvinists themselves disagree on the matter (ex. Piper and White). For what it’s worth, I will provide you with what I see in Scripture.

First, I begin with the truth that God is absolutely free in all that He does: “Our God is in the Heavens and He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3). Second, I see that all men are sinners deserving of an eternal punishment in God’s wrath. This sinful condition is not excluded from infants: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (51:5). Third, I acknowledge the justice of God: “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight” (Prov 11:1). Because infants themselves are sinners, it is not unjust for God to kill them. If you disagree, pit yourself against this: “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Sam 15:3). Prior to this, God had commanded Joshua to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan. If God is just, then this must have been a just command.

Fourth, I remember the grace of God: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Ps 130:3-4). Through Christ’s death on the cross, God can spare people from His wrath and still be a just God (Ro 3:21-26). Fifth, I rest in the freeness of grace: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Ro 9:16). Based on the first three points, the only hope for a newborn child is that God wills to pay for his sin on the cross – and praise God that an infant’s salvation does not depend on his own will to choose God.

After these five considerations, my conclusion: “I don’t know the eternal destiny of any infant, but I wholly trust in God’s goodness, justice and mercy.” Ultimately, I think that Unconditional Election gives infants a far better hope than will-dependent salvation.

Does Calvinism teach that God only loves certain people?
This question oversimplifies the issue. God loves in many different ways. First, we see His God-centered delight. All His actions are ultimately for His glory. Second, we see His benevolent care for the universe. He maintains the laws of logic and science, feeds the birds and maintains the seasons. Third, we see the universal disposition He has towards men. He commands them all to repent and so in some sense desires all to repent. Fourth, we see the salvific love He has towards His elect. He chooses certain individuals to be in Christ for an eternity of glorifying the riches of His grace.

Calvinism does not deny that God loves all people. Denying this would be Hyper-Calvinism. However, Calvinism affirms with Scripture that God has a special love for His people, a love that does not exist for the wicked. It is true to say Calvinism teaches that God doesn’t love all people the same way.

II. Commitments

A salesman will often neglect to tell you the unpopular side-effects of the product he wants you to buy. He’ll tickle your ears with things he knows you want to hear. Well, I’m not going to do that. For the sake of transparency, I would like to explain to you several things that a Calvinistic worldview is committed to.

You do not ultimately determine whether or not you go to Heaven.
The point of contention is probably in “determine.” Calvinism denies that men can thwart the will of God. If God has chosen to save you, you will be saved no matter what. If God has chosen not to save you, you will be damned no matter what. The twin doctrine to this is Romans 10:13, “For all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” One of the great wonders of heaven shall be, by the glorious merit of Christ, that not one person who ever called on God’s name in faith will be absent.

Your children may not be elect.
It may in fact be the case that God chose to save you and not your offspring. God does not make arbitrary decisions, playing with our eternities “for kicks.” Even so, just because someone is close to you does not mean that he/she is close to God. The Calvinist denies that God is malicious or unreasonable or unloving. The Calvinist likewise recognizes that mankind’s benefit is not the ultimate good in the universe.

There are no good people.
The Calvinistic worldview denies that there is an “innocent man in Asia who has never heard the gospel.” There are certainly wicked men in such a state, but no innocent people. This is hard to accept for some, yet is the necessary conclusion of Total Depravity. Even an atheist who feeds homeless people for a living is not a good person.

Election coincides with the free choices we make.
“Two railroad tracks,” Spurgeon describes them. While this may not be compatible in our minds, the Calvinist claim is not that election negates the responsibility and meaning of our decisions. God’s election always, mysteriously, sovereignly coincides with the free decisions that we make in day-to-day life. Taking election to a logical conclusion of, “It doesn’t matter what I do,” is called Hyper-Calvinism.

The question, “How do I know if I’m elect?” is answered in the gospel.
When a Calvinist begins to explain the benefitting commitments of his theology, a question like “How do I know if I’m elect?” is often thrown up. Nowhere does Scripture tell us the identity of the elect. In fact, everyone in covenant with a local church can consider themselves elect (Eph 1:1-6). After recognizing that election mysteriously coincides with the free choices we make, it is helpful to understand that understanding election is above our pay-grade. Calvinism claims that if you simply trust in Christ, you prove with that action that you were elected before the world began.

Christ’s work is successful.
Calvinism asserts that Christ soundly provided propitiation on the cross and today intercedes on behalf of His church. Furthermore, the Calvinist believes that Christ needs absolutely no help from any man in order to do His work. This is particularly applicable in times of slow progression in holiness. I know that my will and good works do nothing to improve upon what Christ did.

If you could lose your salvation, you would.
“Once saved always saved,” as the Southern Baptists say. Most don’t realize that this is an historically Calvinistic statement. When Baptists derived from the Puritans in England, they distinguished themselves into Particular (Calvinistic) and General (non-Calvinistic) Baptists. At this initial differentiation, only the Particular Baptists confessed that you cannot lose your salvation. Future melding of Particular and General would be just that: a mixture of the two ideals. To reject Calvinism in its entirety is practically impossible for a Southern Baptist. Calvinism happily professes that an individual’s salvation is kept in God’s hand alone. Your salvation is as secure as God’s will is sovereign.

Presuppositional Apologetics
The only infallible source of information one has is Scripture. The Calvinistic worldview claims, therefore, that Scripture must be the starting point of our logic. Science and philosophy must submit themselves to Christ by taking a back-row seat to the Word of Christ. For more information on Presuppositional Apologetics, I direct you towards the following theologians: James White, Jeff Durbin, Douglas Wilson, Vern Poythress.

Vindicating Calvinism: A Faith Treasured in Holy Writ

This is the second essay in a series defending Calvinism against misunderstandings and harmful caricatures.

I do not claim that you are incapable of exegetical thought if you deny Calvinism. I do not claim that preaching is impossible for a non-Calvinist. Neither do I assert that the power of God unto salvation is a trivial matter. My single proposition with this article is: Calvinism is a Biblically defensible theology, such that claims of heresy are exegetically untenable.

The most basic point of Calvinism is “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jon 2:9). Yet this is not the most basic and distinct point, because all Christians agree that salvation is by grace. To defend the distinctive claim of Calvinism, I will focus my exegesis on three points: the inability of man’s innate will, the effectual nature of God’s salvific call, the reality and freedom of God’s choice to save certain individuals.

I hope that my words prove helpful to you.

A Faith Treasured in Holy Writ

I. The Extent of Our Wickedness

All Christians agree that mankind is guilty. Pelagianism is heretical, so we can also agree that mankind is wicked. The point of contention is what this wickedness extends to. Is every faculty ruined in sin and incapable of positive progression towards God, or does mankind possess a will intrinsically capable of choosing God? My efforts here will focus on providing Biblical evidence that mankind is morally unable to come to God on his own.

Historically, man’s innate inability to choose God on his own has been considered a staple of orthodox theology. Apart from Roman Catholicism, recent centuries (ex. Wesley, Finney) boast an historically-unique flavor of Semi-Pelagian theology. After refuting Pelagius on the issue of Original Sin, Augustine of Hippo then engaged in a dialogue with Cassian regarding Semi-Pelagianism (ie. Cassianism). Semi-Pelagianism/Cassianism is the suggestion that mankind cannot obey God without grace yet can take a step towards Him without grace. Cassianism is synergistic (“with two energies”; ie. God and man) in its entirety. Augustine countered that because man’s will was in bondage to sin, God must do a monergistic (“with one energy”) work to draw him to Himself.

After a century of discourse, the Synod of Orange (529) decidedly renounced Cassianism in favor of Augustine’s monergism (although they made no decision on election and effectual grace). This would be the ideal even into the Calvinist and Arminian dialogue of the Reformation. Classical Arminianism affirms Total Depravity and the need for awakening grace. The distinction between Arminian and Calvinistic grace is whether or not it is effectual (for this reason, it would be helpful for Calvinists to refer to Wesleyanism as Semi-Pelagian, rather than Arminianism). This will be addressed in the next section.

From these texts I mean to prove the following: natural man’s hatred for God is such that he will never serve Him.

All men are under sin (Ro 3:9). Sin lords itself over mankind, as Christ’s enemies in Acts 2:35 are a footstool for His feet. We are in subjection to sin. The picture of a humanity under sin is elaborated in the following verses: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Ro 3:10-12). Clearly this subjection is not in unwillingness, because there is none who seeks for God. It is not the case that individuals want God but can’t repent. Rather, individuals could repent but don’t care to. “The heart of the problem is the problem with the heart” (Matt Chandler).

Our speech (vv.13-14) and pattern of life (vv.15-17) manifest the wretchedness of our natural inclinations. The root of the problem: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (v.18). Paul seems to be quoting Psalm 36:1, which David follows: “For [transgression] flatters him in his own eyes concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it” (v.2). The natural man is flattered by his own sinfulness and takes delight in depraved things.

Man’s natural bend away from God is hostile: “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Ro 8:7-8). In this text, the fleshly man’s hostility toward God is spoken of in terms of ability. Christ Himself used this language.

Jesus told the Jews that He was the bread of life (Jn 6:35) and could save His people without fail (v.39). When they grumbled in disbelief (vv.41-42), He addressed the problem of their doubt: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (v.44). Clearly the Jews were grumbling about Him of their own volition (v.41), yet Jesus labeled their doubt as a lack of ability. “‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father’” (vv.63-65).

What kept the rich young ruler from selling all He possessed and following Christ (Mk 10:21)? Was Jesus forcing him to idolize gold? Did Roman soldiers place him under house arrest? By no means – the text says, “But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property” (v.22). Christ then explains to the disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (v.25). Why is it hard for the rich man, but because of his own unwillingness to abandon riches for Christ? The disciples understood that this statement was not simply applicable to those who idolize money, for they respond: “Then who can be saved?” (v.26). This question is very appropriate: if the hearts of men are so easily prone to idolatry, then who can be saved? “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (v.27). Again Christ utilizes the language of ability in reference to the will of man.

Consider Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Here God speaks to the Jews of their imminent destruction via those coming from the north (v.20). Destruction is coming because of the magnitude of Israel’s iniquity (v.22). Crying for deliverance will be of no use because Israel’s history has clearly demonstrated man’s natural inclination towards evil. Because they are wicked and unable to be otherwise (v.23), God will therefore scatter them like drifting straw to the desert wind (v.24).

II. Regeneration Before Faith

If no one wants God, then how is anyone saved? God could step down from heaven and extend His arms in mercy, but we would spit in His hands and run the other direction. If no one wants God, then how does anyone ever come to love God?

God must take the first step. The initiative in salvation is God’s. Classical Arminianism acknowledges this point, yet denies that this initial grace is effectual. In this case, it is not salvific. The Calvinist, however, sees this initial grace as salvific in that it is actually the soteriological doctrine we call “regeneration.”

From these texts I mean to prove the following: God’s preceding grace effectually turns a God-hater into a God-lover.

1 John 5:1 immediately comes to mind: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” This is the last of three statements in 1 John in regards to the fruit of being born of God. This birth precedes deeds of righteousness (2:29), love (4:7) and faith (5:1). In his gospel, John recounted Christ’s dialogue with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Jesus asserted, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless on is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v.3). He continues: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v.6). Clearly Nicodemus had been physically begotten (“How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” [v.4]), yet Christ spoke of a spiritual birth. “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do now know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (v.8). This birth is clearly “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:13).

God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Co 1:21-23a). In contrast to signs and wisdom, the church offers Christ crucified. This gospel seems silly to the world. “To Jews a stumbling block” (v.23b) – to suggest that Israel crucified their own Messiah, that this carpenter’s Son was in fact the bread of life? “and to Gentiles foolishness” (v.23c) – to suggest that a Jewish Messiah, in a remote corner of the world, alien from Athens or Rome or any center of philosophy, is my only hope for life? This gospel is truly foolishness – “but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To whom is the gospel power and wisdom? To whom is the gospel a message of profound riches and counsel? Only to those who are called. The call of God makes the difference between those perishing and those being saved.

From these texts, it would appear to be the case that God powerfully begets and calls certain men and the result is that they delight in and cling to Him. Romans 9:6-13 refers to calling in effectual terms. If there are Christ-haters among the Jews, doesn’t that prove God is unable to save His people (vv.1-5)? God chose the Jews to be His possession (Deut 7:6) yet many Israelites are never saved. Either God has chosen to save all Jews yet is not able to, or God is able to yet has chosen not to.

Paul says plainly that the problem is not God’s sovereignty: “It is not as though the word of God has failed” (Ro 9:6a). More specifically: the Word of God always accomplishes what it intends to accomplish. The distinction lies in God’s purpose: “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (vv.6b-7). It was never God’s intention to save all of ethnic Israel. Rather, “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (v.8). God never said He would save all of ethnic Israel, Abraham’s descendants of the flesh. God only made a promise to save certain ones.

Therefore, a damned Israelite does not prove God to be a liar. He promised Isaac, not Ishmael: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son” (v.9). He promised Jacob, not Esau: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac…it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger’” (vv.10, 12). Verse 11 describes the nature of God’s promise to Rebekah. First, though the twins were not yet born. Second, and had not done anything good or bad. Third, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand. Fourth, not because of works but because of Him who calls.

The word went forth to Rebekah before the event happened. This word, therefore, was prophetic. It also came before the twins made any moral choice. Paul’s reasoning is that because the word preceded the birth, it therefore remained unaffected by the actions of the twins. The idea of God looking forward into the future to act in response to what the twins would do is completely alien to Paul’s logic. The word, therefore, was free. Thirdly, His word ensured that His will would not be frustrated. The word did not act arbitrarily or randomly – it accomplished what God had decided it to accomplish. The word, therefore, was purposeful. Last of all, it was important that the word accomplish God’s purpose in order that it be because of God and not because of works. This is the realm of the will, not the legal context of justification. The prophesy was not a prediction of what would happen but a promise of what God would make happen. The word, therefore, was effectual.

Romans 9:6ff proves that God’s word does not fail. In everything that it sets out to do, it succeeds to the uttermost. It is by nature effectual and successful. Earlier, we read that those who love God are also called according to His purpose (8:28). The calling of God unto salvation (v.28) is that calling which makes a difference unto salvation (1 Co 1:22-24) and nothing can stop it (Ro 9:6-13). “These whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (8:30). Every individual whom God calls is then justified and glorified – no one is lost.

It seems evident from these texts that before anyone can love and cling to God, there must be a powerful work to bring them into such a state. This calling is not an offer or question: it is the power of God unto salvation (1:16). God’s calling is will-awakening (Mk 10:27), begetting a living spirit (Jn 3:1-8) that clings to God in faith (1 Jn 5:1). This is the beautiful promise of the New Covenant: “moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek 36:26-27).

III. Election

Before an individual has faith, God must regenerate him. Before God regenerates him, He must choose to do so. This choice is called Unconditional Election. It is “unconditional” because there existed no necessary condition which the chosen individual had to meet in order to be elected. The only condition was God’s desire to choose him.

From these texts I mean to prove the following: Whether or not an individual is saved depends wholly on God’s choice to save him.

Romans 9 has more fruit to bear. “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?” (v.14a). Is God unjust to freely love Jacob and not Esau? Is God under some type of obligation to love both Jacob and Esau, so that when He chooses Jacob only He is acting unjustly? Because God Himself decides what is just or not, this inquiry is actually concerning God’s consistency. Is God consistent to choose Jacob over Esau? We might ask, “Is this the God of Scripture?”

Is God unfaithful to Himself to choose Jacob and not Esau? “May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’” (vv.14b-15). God is not inconsistent to work this way because He has always worked this way. It has always been the case that God’s decision to save someone is the determining factor in that individual’s salvation. “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (v.16). God also hardens certain individuals according to His own free purposes (vv.17-18).

Ephesians 1:4-6 also references God’s electing purpose. “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” God chose the saints for salvation in reference to Christ before He even created the universe. Our adoption as sons  is not by our own will but by God’s predestination. His will is the ultimate, determining factor.

God’s freedom in election is certainly undeniable in the call of Abram. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:1-3). Why Abram? Certainly the election of ethnic Israel to bear the oracles of God is at play here (Ro 3:2), but is this not also the out-working of God’s plan to save Abram as the father of those saved by the Messiah (Gal 3:29)? If God exercised freedom in choosing Abram and not others, it is reasonable to assume that He might have exercised the same freedom to choose and not choose other individuals.

Concluding Thoughts

If my exegesis has been faithful, then Scripture provides us with ample reason to believe that mankind’s will is morally incapable of loving and clinging to God on its own. Therefore, if anyone is to be saved through faith, there must be a preceding grace to gift that individual with faith (Eph 2:8-9). Due to the successful and effectual nature of God’s salvific call, we understand that human salvation depends on the purposes of God.

While there are further claims distinctive to Calvinism, these three points are of most fundamental importance. I dearly hope that I have proved Calvinism to be a Biblically defensible theology. These truths are not the musing of one man, the secrets of one cult, nor the baggage of one movement. They are exegetically defensible propositions: “heresy” is not an appropriate response.

I make no assertion that Calvinism is the only Christian option available to you. Calvinistic soteriology is not a test of salvation. You can think that I am in error to assert that the above texts defend Calvinism. However, I hope that my exegesis above has proved that Calvinism is a Biblically defensible theology, such that claims of heresy are exegetically untenable.

Vindicating Calvinism: A Faith Traced in History

This article is to provide ample evidence that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. It is the first of many articles I have written in defense of Calvinism.

I do not assert that you must affirm Calvinism in order to be a Christian. I do not assert that you are incapable of logical thought if you reject Calvinism. My goal is simply but firmly to prove that Calvinism is not an heretical system of theology. Here, I mean to relay Calvinism’s historical roots.

I hope this proves helpful to you.

A Faith Traced in History

First, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were present in the early church.

Let us therefore approach Him in holiness of soul, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, with love towards our gentle and compassionate Father because He made us an elect portion unto Himself…Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness…There was given a declaration of blessedness upon them that have been elected by God through Jesus Christ our Lord…Jesus Christ is the hope of the elect… – Clement Of Rome (A.D. 69)

We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation. – Barnabas (A.D. 70)

[Christ speaking] I see that I shall thus offer My flesh for the sins of the new people. – Ibid.

To the predestined ones before all ages, that is, before the world began, united and elect in a true passion, by the eternal will of the Father… – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

In all these discourses I have brought all my proofs out of your own holy and prophetic writings, hoping that some of you may be found of the elect number which through the grace that comes from the Lord of Sabaoth, is left or reserved [set apart] for everlasting salvation – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

Christ died for the salvation of His people…for the church – Tertullian (A.D. 200)

The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed. – Eusebius (A.D. 330)

Faith itself is to be attributed to God…Faith is made a gift. These men, however, attribute faith to free will, so grace is rendered to faith not as a gratuitous gift, but as a debt…They must cease from saying this. – Augustine (A.D. 370)

Second, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were clarified at the appropriate time.

In church history we see the development of doctrine, but only in a certain sense. Doctrine does not develop in the sense that the truth changes nor that it becomes more complex. Truth remains the same, yet our articulation of it progresses. As various controversies have risen, the need for clarification on Biblical truth has likewise been present.

For example, Trinitarianism needed to be articulated in light of Arianism. Does that mean that no one believed in the Trinity prior to the 4th century? Of course not – it means that the Scriptural testimony of our Triune God was not meticulously articulated by church leaders until the 3rd and 4th centuries. The same truth applies to Calvinism. Prior to the 16th century, did anyone believe in Calvinism? Well, the term “Calvinism” did not exist, but of course the teachings of Calvinism were present.

The truths of Calvinism were clarified when the need for clarification arose. The true church separated from the Roman Catholic church under grave conviction of certain doctrines, some of which are expressed in the “Five Solas” of the Reformation: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. The motivation to split from Rome ran deeper than “justification through faith.” For the Reformers, the deeper issue was synergism (“with two energies”) versus monergism (“with one energy”). Namely: who accomplishes salvation? Does God accomplish salvation in its entirety (monergism) or do we accomplish something therein (synergism)?

The Reformers saw Roman Catholic doctrine as synergistic, thereby robbing God of glory and leaving no true hope for mankind who is truly dead in sin. When God’s monergistic work in salvation needed to be clarified, many rose to the task and articulated His sovereignty in salvation. Martin Luther was one such champion of monergism when he wrote his famous Bondage of the Will.

But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.  – Luther ed. Dillenberger, pg. 199, “Bondage of the Will” in Martin Luther

Third, notice that the tenants of Calvinism have been clearly confessed since their articulation in the 16th century.

Confessions in which Calvinistic doctrines are present include but are not limited to the following: 1528 Ten Theses of Berne, 1530 Augsburg Confession, 1549 Zurich Consensus, 1561 Belgic Confession, 1566 Second Helvic Confession, 1599 Geneva Study Bible, 1619 Canons of Dort, 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1675 Helvetic Consensus, 1677 Baptist Catechism, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1801 39 Articles of Religion, 1858 Abstract of Principles, 1966 Baptist Affirmation of Faith.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are now deceased, have included but are not limited to the following: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Zacharias Ursinus, Roger Williams, John Owen, Benoit Turretin, Francis Turretin, Thomas Watson, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, John Gill, John Bunyan, Augustus Toplady, J.C. Ryle, William Carey, George Mueller, Charles Spurgeon, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, Geehardus Vox, Francis Schaeffer, B.B. Warfield, A.T. Robertson, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, Martyn Loyd Jones, James M. Boyce.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are still living, have included but are not limited to the following: Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, James White, Bruce Ware, David Platt, Albert Mohler, Jason Allen, Owen Strachen, Matt Chandler, Jared Wilson, Greg Gilbert, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, D. A. Carson, Paul Helm, Douglas Moo, G. K. Beale, Vern Poythress, John Frame, Timothy Keller, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, Alistair Begg, Douglas Wilson, Bryan Chappell, Ligon Duncan, Voddie Baccham.

Fourth, notice that Calvinism has played a foundational role in Baptist history.

Baptists sprung from the Puritans in England, who were entirely Calvinistic. From this body Baptists differentiated themselves in two main groups: Particular (Calvinistic) and General (non-Calvinistic) Baptists. In 1790, America boasted 979 Baptist churches, most of which were Calvinistic. The trend would continue until the mid-19th century split into Northern and Southern Baptists, to resurface in the 1980’s on the back of the Conservative Resurgence. H. Leon McBeth writes, “There can be no doubt that Calvinism has been a major part of Baptist heritage” (McBeth, pg. 699, The Baptist Heritage; all information in this paragraph was taken from McBeth).


In light of these four brief points, I submit to you that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. Labelling Calvinism “unchristian” is historically untenable. Though the assertions of Calvinism need not be confessed by a Christian, they cannot with any historical weight be considered heretical. Heresy is different than error. Orthodoxy grants you full liberty to say, “The Calvinist is in error,” yet historically no one can fairly claim, “The Calvinist is heretical.”

Baptists have always included those who are Calvinistic and shall continue to do so. Baptists claim Calvinistic believers as fellow believers and work hand in hand with them as they serve the Lord together. – David Allen and Steve Lemke, 9, Whosoever Will

The Heart of Calvinism

I don’t consider myself to be an overly-emotional person. However, three things consistently make me cry. First, watching Sam carry Frodo up the face of Mount Doom. Yes, I’ll tear-up *spoiler alert* when Gandalf dies – but it’s not the same, because he obviously comes back. Second, singing “Before the Throne of God Above” with my local congregation. Quite possibly my favorite hymn (after “There is a Fountain”).

The third culprit is Desiring God’s video “The Calvinist.” It is a five minute poem spoken by several leading Reformed theologians (but I believe Piper wrote the poem). Though well done, it is not the most creative or eloquent video. My love and emotion for the poem comes from its ability to communicate my deepest affections. Every time I listen to or watch it, I think, “Yes. That is who I am.”

I suggest that this poem is a unique glimpse into the heart of Calvinism. Despite the cold, studious manner Calvinists are often depicted in, I believe my brethren would agree that our souls burst with the affections articulated in this video. Take five minutes to watch The Calvinist.

A Brief Confession of the Doctrines of Grace

There are several distinctive truths of Calvinism. These principles in sum separate the Doctrines of Grace from other systems of theology. A person who believes these doctrines is typically described as Reformed in their soteriology. This article is a confession of the Doctrines of Grace. It is not a defense. I simply want to bear witness to these convictions that are very dear to me.

The Wickedness of Every Man

I believe that every human is born with a heart naturally inclined to sin. “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom 3:11). It is not that man literally cannot come to God, but rather that he will not come to God. Yet because his hostility for God is so strong, it is true to say that he will never seek for God nor submit to God in love. Thus, it is in that sense that every man is unable to come to God due to the depravity of his evil will (Mk 10:24-27). His will is bound to his own wicked affections (Rom 8:6-8).

The Father’s Merciful Choice

I believe that God chose specific sinners to redeem from sin and bring into an eternal enjoyment of His glory. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). Salvation does not depend on the will of man, but rather on God’s will to have mercy (Rom 9:16). God’s will to save an individual is the dependent factor in that individual’s salvation. There was no condition that any person had to meet prior to God’s decision to save that person. God’s salvific love is thus unconditional.

The Son’s Redeeming Sacrifice

I believe that Christ’s work on the cross definitively secured salvation for all those whom God chose to save (Eph 1:4). The atonement is unlimited in power yet limited in the scope of individuals to whom it is applied. No one for whom Christ bore sin will fall into eternal damnation (Rom 8:32-33). The intention of God at the cross was not to simply make salvation possible but rather to secure redemption through His blood for the saints (Eph 1:7). Christ literally was substituted for the saints as a sacrifice to appease God’s wrath (Rom 3:25).

The Spirit’s Resurrecting Power

I believe that all those whom God chose and redeemed, He powerfully seals by His Spirit. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13). He resurrects their dead natures and gives them a heart that loves Him (Ezek 36; Jn 3:5; Rom 8:30). Only the Spirit gives such life (Jn 6:63; Eph 2:8-9). The most basic fruit of this regeneration is an affection for Jesus Christ (Jn 1:9-13; 1 Jn 5:1). The saint’s heart now has “taste buds” for God in such a way that he is removed from the bondage of wicked desires and effectually drawn to God (Eph 2:4-5).

The Hope of Every Saint

I believe that all those whom God chose, redeemed and sealed will be raised with Christ and glorified. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:44). All of Christ’s sheep have eternal life and cannot be snatched out of God’s hand (Jn 10:27-29). No individual whom God sets His salvific love upon is left unglorified (Rom 8:29-30). A saint’s salvation is as secure as God’s will is sovereign: his peace rests on God’s immutable and effectual will to save (Rom 8:31-39).


These five pillars articulate one defining conviction: if it were not for God’s mercy, I would in every sense be lost. The difference made between the “wickedness” of the first and the “hope” of the last, is the Trinitarian work of God. I must confess with Jonah: “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jon 2:9).

I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone. I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share in His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. (Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism”)